A report prepared with support from Human Resources Development Canada by Edward B. Harvey, PhD, President, Alliance for Higher Education and Enterprise in North America and Professor of Applied Social Research and Policy Studies, University of Toronto

In overall terms, the results of this study indicate that many Canadian community colleges take a positive view of the opportunities and benefits related to international activities. However, there is considerable scope for expanded college involvement, notably in the area of mobility programs. With particular reference to the Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education operated by HRDC, the study identifies a number of policy/program actions that could enhance college involvement.

Eighty-five percent of colleges responding to the study survey stated that institutional and curriculum internationalization is an official objective of their institution. Nearly 63 percent report active relationships with U.S. and/or Mexican institutions. Ninety-six percent say that existing international linkage activity has been beneficial for their college. With respect to proposals by the new Mexican government to expand its commitment to education, science and technology, nearly 67 percent of college respondents "strongly agree" that these new directions will create opportunities for the Canadian community college sector. 29.6 percent of respondents "agree somewhat".

Despite these positive indications, there is scope for improvement. With reference to the Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, 25 percent of responding colleges had been successful applicants to the program, 17.9 percent had been unsuccessful applicants and 57.1 percent had not applied. In this connection, it should be noted that responding colleges identify the two most important funding sources for international activities as the federal government (85.2 percent) and their home institution (also 85.2 percent).

In connection with the Program for North American Mobility, the survey results identify various participation/success barriers experienced by colleges. Nearly 77 percent of respondents agreed that a major obstacle to participation in the program is locating the requisite number of partners in the U.S. and Mexico. Some college respondents suggested the number of partners be reduced. Eighty-five percent said it would be "very helpful" to have a database on potential partners.

College respondents also expressed concern about the time and costs involved in preparing proposals for the Program for North American Mobility. Seventy-four percent "agree strongly" that the cost of proposal development is "a major obstacle". Nearly 26 percent "agree somewhat". College respondents would like to see HRDC address this barrier by providing seed funding for proposal development. Just over 69 percent felt that "up to $10K" seed funding would be appropriate. Thirteen percent suggested between $10L and $20K. Just over 17 percent proposed seed funding of over $20K. College respondents are particularly concerned about being able to make a site visit to potential partners. Such a visit is viewed as "very important" by 85 percent of college respondents.

College respondents are concerned about other cost issues as well. They consistently make the point that college operating budgets have little or no slack and that institutions experience significant difficulty dealing with the basic coordination costs involved in the type of projects supported by the Program for North American Mobility. Ninety-six percent of college respondents "strongly agree" that HRDC should allow a certain percentage of the mobility program budget to be used for such basic coordination costs. Just over 30 percent suggested up to 10 percent, 39 percent proposed between 10 and 15 percent and just over 30 percent suggested over 15 percent.

In the nature of their mission, colleges have regular contact with private sector organizations, often for the purposes of work/study programs. However, it was also pointed out that only a relatively small sub-set of such private sector organizations would be likely to have an interest in mobility project partnering with a college. As with the issue of locating education sector partners, the development of and access to databases on potential private sector partners was seen as an important part of the solution.

The study results point to the following areas for further consideration:

(1) Consideration should be given to the possibility of providing colleges with seed funding for the purposes of proposal development for any competitive funding programs aimed at increasing academic mobility. A clear "letter of intent" protocol would have to be developed to ensure standards and accountability. Up to $10K in seed funding would appear to be a reasonable limit.

(2) Consideration should also be given to the possibility of permitting a certain percentage of the program budget for any competitive funding programs aimed at increasing academic mobility to be used for basic coordination costs. Between 10 and 15 percent of program budget would appear to be reasonable.

(3) Consideration should be given to further activities designed to develop databases that would help potential program applicants to identify possible partners in both the education and private sectors. There may be a possible link here to database development work currently being carried out by the Alliance for Higher Education and Enterprise in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

(4) Early consideration should be given to various steps that could increase the formation of community college/private sector partnerships in mobility initiatives:
    • As the study results show, federal funding is of great importance to college mobility initiatives. Federal support is the most likely path by which colleges can develop the experience and capabilities that would make them of interest to potential corporate partners. The hard reality is that corporations are highly unlikely to fund the developmental aspects of gaining this experience and capability.

    • Mobility programs have the potential to be used as a tool to move colleges toward a higher level of motivation to seek out and form private sector partnerships. The mechanism would be to attach to the funding process requirements designed to foster this outcome.

    • Colleges have access to the private sector through their coop program activities. These existing networks could be more effectively exploited for mobility initiative purposes.

    • Having said this, however, it must be recognized that only a certain proportion of college private sector contacts would have an interest in mobility initiatives. Although a North American view is developing in Canadian business, by no means all corporations have it and there is much sectoral variation. That is why, in point 9 below, we recommend that a more sectoral approach be considered in future mobility program calls for proposals.

    • Colleges will require support and guidance to achieve this agenda. Colleges require a better understanding of how to approach potential private sector partners, how to make a business case for mobility initiatives, and how to communicate and promote the benefits of bilateral and trilateral activities.

(5) Consideration should be given to the preparation of written materials that would provide colleges with background and guidance in several key areas: (a) making successful applications to mobility programs; (b) understanding the roles and responsibilities of partners in mobility program projects; (c) how to make effective approaches to potential private sector partners; (d) how to make a business case for mobility initiatives and bilateral/trilateral projects.

(6) These written materials would provide a foundation for a HRDC assisted, Alliance for Higher Education and Enterprise led workshop that would bring together selected colleges and private sector representatives with the objective of defining and launching a small number of highly achievable demonstration projects that would provide a cornerstone for greatly expanded future college/private sector cooperation. The choice of colleges and private sector representatives would be shaped by sectoral considerations - that is, participants would be selected from sectors with the greatest potential for producing successful demonstration results.

The research also points to certain areas that HRDC might wish to consider in connection with its future approach to mobility program initiatives.

(1) In future reviews of the Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, HRDC officials should explore the feasibility of re-designing certain program features to increase college accessibility. The principal areas of program re-design involved include possible reduction in the number of partners required and adjustment of project timelines to better harmonize with the realities of college academic schedules.

(2) Consideration should be given to taking a more sectoral approach to future mobility program calls for proposals. This would entail HRDC, in consultation with the private sector, identifying high priority/high success potential sectors for mobility projects (e.g. environmental management, tourism, information technology) and earmarking a certain proportion of funds for projects in these sectoral areas. HRDC, quite possibly in collaborations with NGOs like the Alliance and the ACCC, could feed back to the college sector strategic information on possible private sector partners. In this way, the HRDC mobility programs are used to develop a critical mass of capability in the college sector. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to get the private sector to directly support mobility initiatives.

North America is rapidly evolving into a continental economy. Both policy developments (such as NAFTA) and the new information technologies are driving this rapid internationalization. Human capital is central to the new economic arrangements. There is an accelerating demand for workers and leaders with a cosmopolitan world view and associated communication skills. Mobility programs, such as the Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, are strategic tools for building this pool of talent. With respect to the Canadian community college sector, this study clearly shows that much remains to be done. The investments required, however, are not simply investments in the college sector. They are investments in the competitive future of the Canadian economy.

Sen. Jack Austin
The Senate of Canada
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© 2002 - 2017 The North American Institute

North American Linkage Activity in Canadian and US Institutions of Higher Education (Acrobat PDF)


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